Gretta Van Riel is an Australian digital entrepreneur who is known as one of the pioneers of marketing her products on Instagram. In fact, she’s one of the few entrepreneurs out there who recognizes the power of social media influencers in marketing. It’s no wonder she’s one of the top awardees of the “Shopify Build A Business Award”, and is also part of the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list, with five multiple seven-figure brands on her resume. Of course, she didn’t start being successful like this, and would you believe that at some point, she almost considered giving up on her life? Read on for that story, and how much is her net worth as of today.
As an entrepreneur who specializes in dropshipping, Gretta has a multitude of brands under her belt, and all of them are best-sellers in their respective niches. These brands include SkinnyMe Tea (focusing on healthy tea supplements), DropBottle (a “fruit-infuser” bottle), and The 5th (focusing on watches). According to her story, she started her SkinnyMe Tea when she was 22 years old, and she’s only armed with $22 in her pocket. However, she tapped into something that, back then, no one would think about using as a marketing platform: Instagram.
“It was back in 2012. Instagram wasn’t as widely used obviously as it was now. At the time, Instagram didn’t have any features for businesses. So taking a business account was just as simple as changing the account name to SkinnyMeTea. But we started to grow that account quite quickly,” Gretta stated while she was explaining the strategy that she used for marketing SkinnyMe Tea. It paid off quite well, too, as SkinnyMe Tea’s Instagram account has gained around 600,000 followers by the end of 2012. By comparison, the popular shoe brand Nike only had around 10,000 followers in the same period. Of course, this translated well into lots of sales, as Gretta’s SkinnyMe Tea brand has been racking upwards of $600,000 worth of sales every month during its first six months.
But she soon learned that rapid growth can backfire if not managed enough.
With such a huge amount of sales happening every month, Gretta knew that she has to grow her manufacturing capability to keep up with the huge demand (they didn’t have a proper manufacturer back then). Unfortunately, back then, Australia, her home country, didn’t have a manufacturer that can satisfy that huge demand for tea orders, so she resorted to outsourcing from a Chinese manufacturer. This turned out to be not only her biggest regret, but also her biggest lesson as an entrepreneur.
“I placed an order for a year’s worth of tea, which was over a million US dollars worth of tea at the time,” she said. “We received the order, finally. We held it in a warehouse in Hong Kong for a while. That costs money. We shipped it to Australia. That costs more money. Got held in customs for a week. That was another $80,000.” Unfortunately, she was met with a nasty surprise. “The tea was compost, basically. It was disgusting. I wouldn’t even let my team touch it without gloves on. It had metal bolts in it, had springs in it. You could just see it was wet and dirty, and disgusting.”
In short, she was basically scammed. With a million US dollars down the drain, Van Riel and her business partner hit rock bottom. “I cried a bit. I remember my general manager and I were in a car and we were behind a truck that had building supplies on it and some wood was very precariously placed. And we were like, ‘Do your worst word, we’re done. We don’t care. Fall off the truck, get us.’” Basically, she almost lost all hope back then, and was ready to give up on life.
Fortunately, she didn’t. Instead, she went on and founded other successful ventures, such as The 5th, which produced luxury watches that only come on sale on the 5th day of each month for 5 days. Using the knowledge and experience she gained from SkinnyMe Tea, her new business venture turned out even more successful, selling over a thousand watches on their first day, which translates to $100,000 in sales. And one year since she founded the brand, she was already doing a million Australian dollars in sales in a single day.
She credits her success in business ventures not only through hard work and determination, but also through leveraging the capability of social media influencers. Her advice to newer entrepreneurs who want to build their own brand, is to research the market for your idea carefully and build up the demand before actually launching the product. But she also advised that you have to do it with careful planning and strategy, as there’s still a risk that if you built it up without careful forethought, you’re not going to get any sales from it all.
Despite the success of her business ventures, Gretta’s net worth is a bit surprising. She only has a net worth of around one to five million dollars. While it’s quite small compared to others, for someone who started a business with just $27 in her pocket, and recovered after being scammed millions, she still commands an impressive net worth.
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